Many South Floridians think tile roofs are among the strongest against hurricanes. For years, insurance companies gave homeowners discounts on their premiums for installing them.
But some insurers have stopped giving the discounts because of the state's complicated new form. It's costing homeowners such as Amir Kanel, of Palm Beach Gardens, hundreds of dollars a year.
Kanel installed a $50,000 concrete barrel tile roof in February, only to have his insurance agent say he won't get a discount. His insurance premiums will go up 10 percent this year, to $3,573. Kanel's house didn't qualify for a discount because the insurance inspector, following a year-old state form, didn't say that he should get one.
The form doesn't specifically mention tile roofs as eligible because it's based on a 2002 state study that didn't evaluate tile roofs - one of the two most common roof types in South Florida, especially for upscale developments, according to building officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
"If I knew ahead of time that concrete tile roofs [wouldn't qualify for a discount] I wouldn't have done it," Kanel said, adding that he would have needed special approval from his homeowners association to put on another type of roof.
The state has gotten a lot of questions about tile roof discounts since the new state inspection form came out, said representatives of the Office of Insurance Regulation and Department of Financial Services. In some cases, inspectors provide extra information saying the tile roofs meet the latest building codes and should qualify for discounts.
"There are still insurers who are taking a harder line and sticking strictly to the language in the present form," Rob Powell, a Department of Financial Services employee, wrote to Kanel in April.
Some inspectors are wary of new state rules that make it a crime to give unwarranted discounts, so they err on the side of caution when it comes to gray areas on the form.
"This has been a mess for about a year," said Kanel's agent, Theresa Goulet, of Horace Mann Insurance in Jupiter. Goulet said it's up to policyholders to push to get discounts, and Kanel could get one if he can get the inspector on board.
Kanel's insurer, Universal Property & Casualty, agreed that it's up to inspectors. "If a policyholder has additional information relating to an inspection, we are happy to consider that information in accordance with the discount requirements," said Sean Downes, the company's chief operating officer.
The inspector for Kanel's home, Larry Smith, said he can't change a form once he has submitted it, but he would be willing to if Kanel gets approval from the company.
Tile roof omission
Applied Research Associates, a research and engineering company hired by insurers and others to help with rate filings and other analyses, studied roof performance for the state in 2002. It didn't evaluate tile roofs because it didn't have enough data on them from insurers, said Larry Twisdale Jr., executive vice president.
"Tile roof materials were not contemplated in the [study] and were consequently not included in the" form, said Brittany Perez, spokeswoman for the Office of Insurance Regulation.
Since last year, policyholders have complained that other legitimate discounts have been revoked by inspectors hired by insurance companies using the new inspection form.
The insurance regulation office met with insurance industry officials, inspectors and others Monday to discuss changes to allow discounts on tile roofs, among others.
"The office continues holding public hearings and workshops to continue dialogue in an effort to enhance the form and make it more comprehensive while reducing fraud" or unwarranted discounts, Perez said.
Tile roofs in storms
Since 2002, Applied Research and others have studied how roofs stand up in storms.
Metal roofs are considered the strongest in hurricane-force winds, followed by concrete tile roofs, according to Stephen Leatherman, co-director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research.
He said there were problems with asphalt shingles - which still can qualify for discounts - and clay tile roofs during Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
"There are various grades of asphalt roofs; the heavy grade will survive the smaller hurricanes," he wrote in an email. "Hurricane Wilma ... in 2005 caused about $16 billion in damages in South Florida, much of it caused by clay tiles and asphalt shingles flying off" and water getting into the house.
As for wood shingle roofs, there aren't many in South Florida and their strength would depend on their age and condition, Leatherman said.
A FEMA report on damage in Florida from Hurricane Charley in 2004 found that parts of tiles roofs blew off in the strongest winds, but they kept water out of homes. Water damage frequently costs more to fix than the roof alone, the report said.
FEMA concluded that asphalt shingle roofs generally performed poorly unless they were installed more recently.
The FEMA report indicated the performance of most roofs had more to do with how well they were installed and how they're attached, rather than the roof materials. For instance, tiles attached with nails or foam fared better than those attached with mortar, according to FEMA, though problems with foam-set tiles typically stemmed from errors in the placement and amount of foam used per tile.
In 2008, Applied Research studied tile roofs - without differentiating between concrete or clay - and found tile roofs led to about 30 percent higher losses for one insurer, in part because they're more expensive to repair and replace, Twisdale said.
"They're [more] easily cracked and damaged, and it's generally more difficult matching new tiles to old tiles, so you might have to replace the entire roof," he said.
Overall, good installation is the key to any roof's ability to stand up in a storm, Twisdale said. A survey of 370 homes after Hurricane Charley found newer roofs that met the Florida Building Code, first approved in 2000, had half the damage of homes that didn't, he said.
Truth about roofs
Find out which roofs stand up to hurricanes at SunSentinel.com/hurricaneroof
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INFORMATIONAL BOX: Metal
Considered best in hurricane-force winds. Listed on state insurance form as qualifying for discount if new and properly installed. Tile
Concrete tile is second strongest in hurricanes. Clay tile can break more easily. Protects best against water damage in storms. Can qualify for discount if inspector verifies and insurer approves. Asphalt shingles
One of the most popular roof types in South Florida. Listed on state insurance form as qualifying for discount if new and properly installed. SOURCE: FIU Laboratory for Coastal Research, FEMA, Applied Research AssociatesCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times